כ״ח במרחשון ה׳תשע״ח (November 17, 2017)

Makkot 12a-b: The Laws of Revenge

We have been discussing the laws of an accidental killer who is exiled to an ir miklat – a City of Refuge – which serves both as a punishment and as a haven of protection from the go’el ha-dam, the “blood avenger” who would otherwise kill him. What status does the go’el ha-dam have? Is the Torah sanctioning the murder of an accidental killer for reasons of revenge?

Three opinions are offered regarding this question by the Gemara on today’s daf.

Basing himself on Bamidbar (35:27Rabbi Yosei HaGelili rules that it is a mitzva for the go’el ha-dam to avenge his relative’s death and slay his killer if he finds him outside of the ir miklat. At the same time, in the event that the go’el ha-dam does not do so, it would be appropriate – albeit not a mitzva – for anyone else to kill him. Rabbi Akiva disagrees, ruling that the go’el ha-dam is permitted to take revenge and kill the person who killed his relative by accident, but he is not obligated to do so. This dispensation applies only to the go’el ha-dam; no one else would be allowed to carry out this killing. A radically different view of this law is offered by Rabbi Eliezer who interprets the passage (Bamidbar 35:12) to mean that the go’el ha-dam has no right to do anything to the killer until he is tried in court.

Rabbi Eliezer’s position is somewhat unclear. Some understand that he forbids the go’el ha-dam from ever taking revenge on an accidental killer. It is only if the killer is put on trial and found guilty of murder that the  will invite the go’el ha-dam to fulfill the death penalty and kill the murderer. Rabbeinu Ḥananel, however, offers an alternative approach. According to him, Rabbi Eliezer would forbid the go’el ha-dam from taking revenge prior to trial. After he is found to be an accidental killer who is required to be exiled, he would agree with Rabbi Akiva or Rabbi Yosei HaGelili should the killer leave the ir miklat.

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